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Trump appeals immunity ruling to the Supreme Court

Former President Trump appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court a federal appeals court ruling that he did not enjoy immunity from prosecution.
Patrick T. Fallon
AFP via Getty Images
Former President Trump appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court a federal appeals court ruling that he did not enjoy immunity from prosecution.

Updated February 12, 2024 at 5:12 PM ET

Former President Donald Trump is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hit pause on his federal criminal prosecution for allegedly conspiring to obstruct the electoral certification three years ago.

Lawyers for Trump made the request Monday, writing the justices that they are preparing a petition for certiorari, or a full application for the high court to take the case. They said they want the court to indefinitely delay the trial at a federal courthouse in Washington D.C. At issue is a dispute over whether Trump should enjoy absolute immunity from criminal charges over acts he allegedly committed while in the White House.

Last week, three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit flatly rejected Trump's bid for blanket immunity.

"Former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant," the ideologically diverse judges wrote in an unsigned, unanimous opinion.

"We cannot accept that the office of the Presidency places its former occupants above the law for all time thereafter," the D.C. Circuit judges wrote. Doing so, they said, "would collapse our system of separated powers by placing the President beyond the reach of all three branches."

The three-judge panel gave Trump until Monday to take his case to the Supreme Court. What the justices do, and how quickly, could determine whether Trump faces trial before the November election in a case that accuses him of breaking federal conspiracy laws to cling to power after he lost the 2020 race to Joe Biden.

Lawyers working for Special Counsel Jack Smith said in court papers that those conspiracies culminated in violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, that injured more than 140 law enforcement officers and shook the foundations of American democracy.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and has argued in and outside of court that the case amounts to "election interference" against the Republican frontrunner to return to the White House. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who named a special counsel to lead the inquiry, has denied under oath any meddling by Biden and others currently in the White House.

The question of presidential immunity in criminal cases has never before arisen, because Trump is the first former president to face such charges.

He's fighting 91 felony counts, across four different jurisdictions, for allegations related to the 2020 election, his refusal to return highly classified documents to the FBI, and for paperwork violations over hush-money payments to an adult film star.

At the Supreme Court, meanwhile, the justices seemed skeptical of Colorado's bid to disqualify Trump from a state primary ballot for allegedly engaging in an insurrection. A decision in that case could come within weeks.

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Carrie Johnson is NPR's National Justice Correspondent.